Thoughts on Public History

I spent last week in London at a conference on Maritime History. I also had some time for sight-seeing. I did the usual tourist things, such as visiting museums and famous sites (Stonehenge, Tower of London, etc.). It was very different mingling with other tourists and participating in guided tours. Different in the sense that for the last few years I have not been a tourist at historical sites (aquariums and zoos yes) and it was an eye-opener in many respects. It was quite frustrating to be dependent on others for what to see and for how long. I am also not a big fan of crowds and this certainly contributed to my frustration. It was interesting to see how people interacted with the exhibits and I was surprised to see how superficial this interaction was, and how limited a person’s patience is for reading signs/posters and listening to guides. This certainly reinforced for me the idea that academics are usually out of touch with the general public. It really shows how in today’s society you only have a few seconds to grab people’s attention, hence the importance of sound bites. It was also interesting to note that the exhibits that people seemed to like the best were the most modern ones with bells and whistles. The question I have thinking about for the last few days is how to incorporate these observations into my teaching. I will let you know what I come up with.

RSM

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